Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Road deaths.

Had a really good meeting about road deaths in Leicestershire yesterday. That sounds bad but I'll carry on.

I must admit that roads, well transport in general is a bit a passion of mine, not sure if it's because I am a boy, but things that councils do to make roads safer etc interests me.

Anyway, so met some experts at County Hall because their annual road casualty report is out, with all sorts of fascinating stats about how crashes happen, where, when, well everything you can think of really.

Now in the county casualties are reducing steadily every year, but the number of deaths remains around the same, at around 50, in fact it has risen slightly every year for five years.

Every year around half of those will be people under the age of 25, and those are the people in particular the council wants to target.

They are changing road layouts, speed limits, putting in bumps and the ever-unpopular speed cameras, which is making the difference but is not breaking through the ceiling. Education also plays a part, especially targeting those who have not even learned to drive yet.

They are also starting an innovative profiling scheme, where they look in detail at the circumstances of people who have died, so they can target areas and certain types of people and hopefully cut deaths.

What no-one could explain is why young people are often so fearless, even reckless when they drive a car. Often these traits are the reasons why people are killed. Speeding, losing control, not looking and taking drink are still the key causes of fatalities. Year after year.

When I was a younger man, I hope at 27 that I am still fairly young, passing my driving test (after four tries) was the most nerve-wracking thing I think I can remember, and going out on my own (I was a cub reporter in Northants driving to Corby to find a man with a samurai sword) frightened me to death, not the man with the sword. What I mean to say is that it was also the responsibility of driving that frightened me, not just the thought of dying.

After a while you gain confidence, you take more risks, this is normal I guess, but I still can't get into my head where people go from this to, well, putting their lives, and others' at risk. Why are they not scared of death? All the adverts of TV now show in a brutal way how people die on our roads, motorcyclists, people without seatbelts, children hit etc. But it is still happening.

But today it clicked, I've never met anyone who said they are a bad driver. So many of us are just too cocky when it comes to driving and that's why too many people die. Everyone knows everytime you get in a car you could die, everyone does, but the attitude is that "I'm too good at driving" for it to happen.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Bowstring Bridge and Pump and Tap.

At the bottom of this post is the opinion piece in today's Mercury, which sums up how many people feel about the city council's decision to try to push this through in private.

Now lets start from the beginning....All council agendas and related non-confidential reports always land on my desk a week before the meeting is held. So I looked through the agenda and papers. Now you will always have a good look at the confidential items, sadly councils will nearly always have them and often it can be something juicy.

For the meeting on Monday there are two confidential papers.

The first is called "LEICESTER'S NEW BUSINESS GATEWAY: NEW BUSINESS QUARTER PHASE 2". Without reading this report you can pretty much guess what this is about, it has been talked about for years. The clue is in the title and it is probably about the development of the Campbell Street Post Office to prepare for a new square outside Leicester Railway Station. I guess we'll find out later on.

Now the second is called: "SALE OF LAND AND VIADUCT AT DUNS LANE". Now I know what this is because I was given the report. Now you could also guess what this was about, maybe, but having read this report, this really is a creative use of a title. Cynical I know. But the second paragraph is the one which says that the council will agree to spend up to £472,000 to demolish the Bowstring bridge. What I am trying to say is that the sale of land is one of two main recommendations to be agreed on Monday. Why was this not included in the title? You can make up your own mind.

Anyway, so I received this report and rang Ross Willmott, because he was presenting the report. Instead Patrick Kitterick called me from Ireland. First thing he said was that the council was not being secretive. They had a press release to be sent out after the council meeting. That sticks in my throat. How is that open? No-one would have known anything until afterwards. (They then put out a press release out on Friday anyway.)

I really do not understand why this is being discussed in private. The deal is done, the costs agreed. What is different about other reports on the main agenda on Monday? For example, there is a report, being discussed in public, on the development of a science park around the National Space Centre.

The science park report says the cabinet will agree to: "Acquire the freehold of the site from Emda, likely at a peppercorn (subject to negotiation)".

So here they are openly saying they will agree to buy the freehold, in a bit, after negotiations. This is what De Montfort University and the council have done on Dun's Lane, a deal much further along the line as DMU have already agreed to pay a peppercorn rate plus other phased payments. It makes no sense.

The council will not change their mind and on Monday it sounds like some people will be at the Town Hall to vent their anger at the plan, and also the circumstances of how it is to be agreed.

The council think this deal is great news for Leicester, but they have handled it very badly indeed. They would have been happy to wax lyrical about this decision, afterwards, when no-one knew it had been happening. When thousands of people have protested against this very plan, that is wrong.

Here is the Mercury's opinion:

The future of Leicester's Bowstring Bridge has been one of the most talked about issues in this newspaper in recent times.

Furthermore, campaigners have set up websites to show their strength of feeling on the matter. Thousands of names have been added to petitions against the removal of this local landmark in the heart of Braunstone Gate.

It is somewhat strange then that a meeting which will decide the future of the bridge should be held in private.

In fact, most of the people who have battled for so long to save the bridge, and the popular pub The Pump and Tap - which will also be demolished as part of the plans - would not have found out about the deal to knock it down had they not bought yesterday's Leicester Mercury.

In turn, the Leicester Mercury would not have been able to publicise the fate of the area had someone with a conscience, or at least some sense of democracy within the city's corridors of power, not leaked to us the report which explains the deal struck between De Montfort University and the council.

Today we have learned that despite the details of the Bowstring Bridge's future now being available on every newsstand in the city, the meeting to discuss the deal between the parties will still be held in private, on Monday, as planned.

The councillors at the heart of this situation claim the information in the report could not have been publicised because it was deemed commercially sensitive.

Their point being that they did not want the amounts being paid for the land in the area around Duns Lane being revealed.

However, now the deal is in the public domain and the figures are out there. We think it is it now time for the council to rethink their plan to discuss the matter in private.

Surely the people of Leicester deserve to hear about the major things which are happening in their city.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Eco Town is not over.

It will be two weeks ago tomorrow that I was at Westminster to hear the announcement that Pennbury was not going to be included on the Government's eco-town shortlist.

Soon afterwards I was with protesters who were celebrating outside number 10 Downing Street, having completed one of the largest and most organised opposition campaigns I have ever seen, and I suspect ever seen in Leicestershire.

But their work is still not over. Having spoken to Kevin Feltham at a county council meeting this week, they, Cascet, are still desperate to undermine the Co-op and their proposals to build close to Leicester.

There's just one thing I cannot get over, and that has been the attitude of the city council in this. The tram I can understand was attractive, but the rest? After all that regeneration work they have done?

Eco-towns are a Labour policy, yes, some councillors are Co-op Labour members, but even the Labour Government did not think that much of the proposal, even from day one. The highest grade it ever got was a b/c I think. Keith Vaz and particularly Sir Peter Soulsby have been completely against it, and made that clear.

Now I was told very early on by a very senior councillor, who wouldn't make it up, that members of the city council cabinet were told by the party they had to support it. But I was always surprised at the extent they did. I remember on one occasion, Patrick Kitterick had a real go at Sir Peter Soulsby in the paper, called him something like a "maverick MP" for opposing it.

This has been the third time that the Co-op has tried to develop their farm land, and I suspect that it will not be the last time, in fact, it probably won't ever stop until they can get the result they want. Clearly they have decided that farming is not going to make enough money, or they need to raise some, or both, and housing is what they will try to do. The green plans are admirable, but in my humble opinion, almost impossible to deliver. Cynical I know, but money is the driving force and I just can't understand how they can make the money they want if they reach these standards.

I suspect that they will now try to apply for a smaller scale development, as a sustainable urban extension, using all the research and work they have done in the build up to their failed eco-town bid. No surprise there probably. And if they can sort a tram, then the city will probably back them again.

Clearly the Government's decision was a big blow to the Co-op, but it is clearly not over.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Back on board.

It's been a while....Been away from work on holidays with my mum, dad and brother who all live in Norway. Fully refreshed and ready for action.

All this stuff about the News of the World has really got my back up actually. I really may be being sensitive (it has been known!) but if it is true, the minority really are making things very difficult for everyone else.

Now journalists are not the most popular bunch nor the most trusted, we know that, but I do think that most are misunderstood.

Granted the Mercury does not have the financial clout of the NOTW, in fact we do not pay people for stories (apart from freelancers or agency copy), but we would never consider doing anything like this even if we could afford it. Several times a year people will approach me anonymously from organisations I cover and ask for money for information. I always say we don't do that and invariably they give the information anyway. It is a shame that other journalists will go to such lengths to get a story. It is not necessary. We are different.

The journalists I know and work with all enjoy different parts of the job, covering news, the arts, whatever, but they are driven by being fair and accurate. They realise the responsibilities we have to be accurate when we inform readers and also know we face the public embarrassment of being wrong, which inevitably leads to a correction/apology in the paper.

Take for example my recent story on parking bays being wrongly marked, that the city council said so vehemently was not true and would have you believe was reckless.

It was true and was far from reckless.

A week or so earlier than this another parking story broke about exemptions on a few city streets even though there were no signs advertising them. We spoke to several legal experts to discuss the implications of this, we were told that this meant you can park everywhere, but these national experts who had successfully appealed more than 100,000 tickets said strongly there was no case for this, that it would be wrong to say it. We didn't.

Later it became clear that some city parking bays were illegally marked. I had e-mails and phone calls from the public about this, even people from within the council e-mailed me. This story took me five days to research and write. We took tens of photographs of bays and sent them to independent experts. I spoke to experts on parking in other local authorities, some of whom were good enough to take time late into the evenings to give me guidance and professional views. I personally spent many hours measuring lines, bays, everything you can imagine. When we found what was wrong I went and remeasured and remeasured.

Finally, with all this evidence I went back to the legal experts who had advised us to leave the previous story alone. These same people were unequivocal in their response. These bays are illegal. You have a responsibility to the thousands of people who have parked in them to print what you have found, they said. So that's what we did.

Thank goodness that is out of my system.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Quick thoughts on recycling.

Isn't it time that people who cannot be bothered to recycle get a fine?

Today was the start of National Recycling Week and began with an event in Town Hall Square showing people what they can recycle, where to put it, and how it is disposed of.

This is not anti-city council, it is only right that people should be given the chance to get it right, but surely those who simply do not make the effort should be punished eventually? It is them who cost us taxpayers more to dispose of their waste after all because there is much more of it in their bins.

Now, is recycling really that difficult or new? Is the thought of putting glass or plastic boxes in a different place that alien to people? It makes me angry.

In the city around 40 per cent of waste is recycled and composted, and about 50 per cent out in the county. Not the figures of an area where many people do not understand recycling or are new to it.

Yes, people looking at the stalls outside the town hall today may have found out a few more things to dispose of or recycle. The councillor I spoke to today, Sarah Russell, said that the people who recycle are those who make an effort to (or something similar to this.) and she wanted to change the mindsets of those who don't. She is right, but it is how those mindsets are changed.

People quickly change their minds if they get hit in the pocket, so why not do that? The council has a team of city wardens to hand out fines in other circumstances, if you leave your bin out for example. I for one hope they start to use it when people are failing to recycle. They would probably have to check what people are throwing away, but that doesn't worry me at all.

Thursday, 18 June 2009


Still at work after a very long day poring over the expenses of Leicestershire's MPs.

Although a great deal of information has been blacked out, the team of four reporters, including me, have produced something very special indeed for tomorrow.

We have secured a stonker of a front page, and have some excellent special reports running through the paper.

Will add the link then.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Gandhi statue and Leicester's lack of them?

"I don't think there should be a statue of Gandhi in Leicester at all I bet he's never even been here." - one man said on our website today,

Blimey, what is it with people and the Gandhi statue, and being so angry about it?

Everytime we do a story on it we get many people upset about the fact that it is going to be in Leicester. Well tomorrow there will be more angry comments and debate because the statue was dropped into place this afternoon.

There seems to be an argument that instead of being Gandhi it should be someone else, like Gary Lineker or the Attenboroughs for example. Surely people are missing the point. This statue has been completely paid for by a charity. It is a private arrangement and it has planning permission. There are similar statues in more than 70 cities across the world, it seems reasonable that a city with links to India like ours should do the same.

The second point is that with all these people so angry with the statue, why not then start to consider whether Leicester should have more statues - more public art that other people can get excited about. Turn this negative energy into celebrating Leicester's heritage and successes. This charity has done it, others can too.

When Gandhi was going in, one bystander said to me that other cities and towns have more sculpture and statues. Why doesn't Leicester?

My home town of Ipswich has recently had two new statues. Football legends Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsay. People love them, I do. Nottingham has the Brian Clough statue. This has been popular as I understand it, and enjoyed because people living there because they can relate and know what these people were/are like and what they did for their area.

I'm not saying it should necessarily be a footballer, sportsman or manager, but something modern like this could only be good for Leicester. You have areas of the city that could be used. The city's cultural quarter near Curve, an area on New Walk, or somewhere near the Walkers Stadium or the new evolving Welford Road Tigers' ground.

I think that we should go for it.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Adam Wakelin and the BNP.

If you haven't already, you should read Adam Wakelin's brilliant interviews with two new county councillors elected on June 4.

As County Hall is my main patch I'll meet these two at the first meeting of the full council on Wednesday. Jewel Miah is the first asian county councillor since the county council took its current form in 1997 and Graham Partner the first BNP councillor.

Particularly fascinating is where Graham Partner says that Nick Griffin is a "prat".

And: "It won't be the first time I've called him one. Saying that about the Holocaust is rubbish.
"Did he watch World At War, see those skeletons and think they were actors?
"He shouldn't say stupid things that he regrets, or should come out and say that's what he really believes and not deny it later. I've no empathy for him at all if he did say that."

Imagine if any other politician openly said that about their party leader?

I have not seen him in action at NWLDC so it will be so fascinating to see how he conducts himself, will he speak a lot, say nothing, and how he will he be treated by the other councillors. Will they be respectful or rude?

All will become clear this week.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Hopping mad.

I am absolutely furious - maybe I should drink some more water or something, that's supposed to help.

People tell you to wait by the phone, they will call, and they don't, you get hold of them, they say they'll call in ten. Nothing. Then you realise that 36 hours have passed. Charming man.

Anyway, the weekend is upon us, so I'll keep it short. I have today received some exciting documents from the city council relating to expenses and trips. Looking at what to do with them and hoping to run a few days of stories on them next week.

Posted the video on here of Keith Vaz being slurped at by Diane Abbott yesterday, which got a good reaction so made it on our website. Got a quote from Mr Vaz - glad he saw the funny side.

"Diane is an old friend. I reckon she could try her hand as an impressionist should she ever want to give up politics!” - he said. (She was taking the mickey out of me, I didn't really look that pleased on screen, now I'll start using words like "Reckon" to get down with the kids and look light-hearted afterwards in this quote. Job done.)

Off to London tonight for more birthdays and wedding-related organising. Shame I'm not around for Alan Duncan's public meeting in Oakham tomorrow at Victoria Hall from 10am. We are of course covering it and will have a story in on Monday. Very interested to know what happens there and whether it is painful. I suspect that the hall will be very busy, but Alan is not stupid, so a large proportion may be his supporters to ensure it doesn't get too ugly. We'll see.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Slurping at Keith Vaz.

To lighten the mood somewhat, watch this video of Keith Vaz in Parliament and fellow MP Diane Abbot taking the mickey out of him. So funny.

Nick Rushton.

So Nick has decided to stand down from the cabinet and will not seek to be the new deputy leader.

The rumour mill at County Hall has been in overdrive on this exact issue for the last month - ever since we broke the story. In the end this result was inevitable really. I must have had the same will he/won't he conversation with dozens of people.

If he had stayed, or even tried to, serious questions would have been asked and the pressure would have been cranked up another notch on him, the Tories and the council. This, for the moment, will relieve some of that pressure.

What has happened in Breedon has been damaging to the council and its administration. I have no idea whether anything that happened was illegal - that is for the police - I don't know whether it breaks council rules - that is for the standards board. What I do know is that the public and other politicians, including Conservatives, are uncomfortable with what has happened. The council itself believed it serious enough to report it the police after all and it is not the "non-story" Andrew Bridgen seems to think it is.

The priority for the powers that be at County Hall, both politically and at officer level, has been that they do not want the council to be tarnished permanently by what happened. It is a kind of Gordon Brown situation, the longer Nick stayed the keener the spotlight on him and therefore the council.

It was also inevitable that in the end someone had to go for this and it was Nick. I am not saying it was anyone else's decision other than Nick, I honestly don't know. I know it will have been difficult for him for him to do this, I suspect he may not have wanted to, but he will also be aware that in politics that he must be seen to do the 'right thing'.

As political reporter I have got to know Nick personally over the last two and a half years and he has been at the heart of many stories I have written, has always been helpful and was a good cabinet member for transport. I have no qualms about saying that I like the man.

I have tried to use this blog to give people an idea of what being a journalist is like. This story is another good example. In politics you rely a great deal on contacts, you get to know them, you speak most days, you see each other a lot, you gain eachothers' trust. He or she helps you with stories, tip-offs, quotes, and in turn they get their message across and improve their profile. It is part of the game and sums up my relationship with Nick.

But then something like this happens, they are on the front page for the wrong reasons, you have to ask difficult questions and sometimes this is the result. This too is what happened with Nick, and is the other part of the game.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Roman bones alert.

As promised, story of the day in the Leicester Mercury, even though it was not on the front (flounces off in artistic fashion).

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Ancient skeletons.

Back to work today, this morning I discovered some ancient skeletons in a field in North Leicester - well someone else did and told me about it. It is in tomorrow's paper and i'll put a link up in the morning. Great story to write.

Back on the blog after recovering from the Euro count on Sunday.

Although election nights are always exciting, I thought this one was pretty subdued in the end, not sure if it was because the Tory train was pretty relentless from result one, especially in the county. The only exception was in Leicester, where Labour cleaned up completely. They are formidable in the city despite the national climate.

Anyway, results were coming in pretty fast but then we ended up waiting for hours for just three districts - either way our photographer had to set up a picture with the winners after the results were confirmed because the actual moment on the stage was so underwhelming.

Then rushed back to Merc HQ for 2ish, and had to file 700 words by 2.40am. That was exciting, proper back against the wall journalism to ensure we got the paper out. Our night editor Mark was magnificent that night, and we produced a front and inside lead to be proud of in time for the print run to start at 3.30am. Was in bed at around 4.30am - job done and had the next day off, even better.

Today was busy, things are really happening at County Hall, lots of stories floating around, can't report it all on here yet (well, in truth, not sure of all facts yet) one emerging issue is that leader David Parsons is choosing his new cabinet this week, but the deputy leader job (Nick Rushton's) is now up for election, not just chosen by the leader as it has been before. Strange business. I wonder if it is because Coun Rushton will go and it won't be Coun Parsons' decision or he will stay and again it won't be the leader's decision. Maybe me being cynical.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Count later.

Just woken up....I have a feeling that tonight's Euro count is going to be really exciting. Can't wait. We have a wager at work about what the spread of the elected parties will be in the East Midlands. I'm not willing to say, actually maybe I am - I have a pound on two Tories, Two UKIP and a Lib Dem. My colleague Mark Clayton is the same, but replaces the Lib Dem with Labour.

Whatever happens, I just hope that it is done and dusted by 2am, otherwise I think we'll struggle to get it in the paper!!! Speak later then.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Elections over.

So it is the day after a fascinating election at County Hall, where the Tories did as well as expected and the Labour party's support simply upped and left. They will have four councillors now, compared to 13 before and I wonder if they can ever recover from this in Leicestershire.
My guess is that yes, they will to an extent, it can't really get any worse after all and these things are always in cycles. But for the next four years their influence will be minimal.

Their biggest humiliation was the loss to the BNP in Coalville, and when the result came in there was a sharp intake of breath in the room at County Hall where I was and I'm told boos rang out at the count. Tory leader David Parsons said to me at the time that now that they have a councillor he would work to involve them in the democratic process, which will show them up for what they are.

Nationally the BNP have amongst the worst attendance record at meetings and have been thrown off several councils because of it. It will be interesting to see what happens here and whether we will have a by-election in Coalville before too long.

So the new council will have a new opposition in the Lib Dems, and Simon Galton will be their leader again. Simon is a man who quietly gets on with his business and I am glad he has had some success. He and Kevin Feltham have spearheaded the anti-Pennbury campaign but despite agreements the Tories started to cut him out of photo opportunities and even removed him from existing photos for their campaign literature on his patch, so I am glad he retained his seat. And as for Kevin Feltham, the man sacked from the cabinet two years ago, he romped in with 71 % of the vote, and a massive majority, so his hard work has paid off too.

I've seen the paper this morning online and I have to say I am proud of all the hard work. We had seven reporters at the counts with photographers and me at County Hall. I really wanted to go all out on it and we all did. I'm thrilled.

Anyway, I'm in London with the future wife and off to a birthday party later. So a few drinks, some sleep and then back to Leicester for the Euro count on Sunday.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Funny how people vote.

Only an hour or so until the polls close and it's got to be one of the lowest turnouts on record.

Went to Melton today to speak to some voters, and although there were around 15 in the hour or so I was there, I was told that by 3pm only around 10 per cent had been through the doors. I don't know about the postal votes but if that is anything to go by then it will be low everywhere. What is interesting is that it could mean the extreme parties get in or those motivated to vote, ie party members or those with connections with candidates will be the only ones bothered and things won't change that much at all.

Of the people I spoke to only one had voted BNP, one UKIP, and the rest the traditional parties, but in Belgrave it was most interesting because nearly all voted Labour but at least half said they did not know why. I think that Keith Vaz is going to be pretty safe come election time next year!

So tomorrow we'll see the full picture in the county.

It's been my patch for the last two years. I'm proud to cover it. Some of the 55 councillors have become friends, lots of cups of tea or stronger, laughs, exhilarating/exciting stories, and also some very difficult questions, uncomfortable phone calls and some stories they didn't like, but still pals in the end, mostly.

I know that some good people (and bad) will go tomorrow but also it will mean new opportunities for others to prove themselves, improve lives in their area, and maybe go for some tea, with me.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Election time!

It is the big day tomorrow! After I vote I'll be in work and who knows what will happen. Well, apart from the results I do actually. This election will be decided on national issues not local ones, so that's what we'll look at.

We'll be doing some exit polls in at least two spots. First we'll probably be in Keith Vaz's patch in Leicester East to get an idea about how city voters have reacted to his attitude, and ask them how they voted and why. There is a loyal Labour following there but it could be creaking because of the last month's events.

The other poll will be done in Alan Duncan's Melton patch. I think this will give us a really good gauge of the mood in the county. I suspect the Tories will do well, and if they do well here, they'll do really well in the rest of Leicestershire.

Better get an early night, and do keep an eye on the Mercury website and on here for up to date news tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Being a journalist.

Wondering if people wanted to know what it is like to be a journalist? Thought I'd tell you about a visit to the police HQ in Enderby today which sums up what it is like.

To put this into context, every day for the last three weeks I have done a page lead on the key issues in the county and European elections. I was invited to meet the police officer in charge of dealing with electoral fraud on June 4.

Now, of course a week or so ago some of the most senior councillors at County Hall were referred to him for alleged dirty tricks relating to a pre-election deal to get a rival candidate to stand down.

So I meet this officer, we talk through the most common forms of fraud, what police will be looking for, what the public should be looking for. Good story.

Interview ends, so I ask about the case at County Hall. It's my job after all and he was not surprised that I asked.

Here's what happened:

Me: I know one case has been referred to you from County Hall. Can you tell me anything?
Officer: I thought you would ask, I can't say anything at all.
Me: Ok, well I got an update last week saying no arrests, is there any update now?
Officer: You have to go through the press office Martin.
Me: Have you been involved.
Officer: Yes i'm involved.
Me: Well, won't the press office just come back to you anyway?
Officer: Yes.
Me: So you could just tell me if there any update now.
Officer: You have to speak to the press office (looks into distance)

So I head back to work, a bit grumpy, and call the press office. Five minutes later I get a call back after they spoke to him. And I'm told there's no update.

This is what it is like to be a journalist.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Abusive people.

For tomorrow's paper I've written a story about politicians getting abused on the doorstep as they canvas for the upcoming elections. I spoke to John Legrys, a man I trust to give me an honest answer about what is going on in the county. He told me he has been shouted at, sworn at etc, and he openly admitted that people see him and other candidates outside and they shut the curtains. We also went out with John to speak to people and ask them what they thought. Really interesting.

But let's take a positive view on this anger towards politicians. I deal with them every day and the majority are decent, hard-working people, a strange breed yes, but honest. And I think this is an opportunity for Local Government and its councillors to show the rest how it should be done. For example, MPs are considering having expenses, salaries, etc being managed and agreed by an independent board. Local councils have done this for years.

I went out for dinner with friends on Saturday and people who would never vote said they will on Thursday. People are engaged with politics again, even if that is because they are angry about politicians and their expenses. This means that Westminster as we know it is being torn down and will be started again, with greater transparency. This is a revolution! There will be greater opportunity for more 'normal' people to stand as candidates, ones people can relate to - this is what people are demanding and any political party wanting power would be crazy not to deliver it. This is actually rather exciting.

Speaking of change, see tomorrow's Mercury for another big politics exclusive...will be in the shops or online tomorrow morning.

Abusive people.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Elections are coming!

Very short post.

Just had a lovely drive back from London, M25, M11, A14, A6 etc. Anyway, while driving through Oadby back into the city the gardens had party political boards, windows had posters in them and people were out and about canvassing. Now only four days until the county council and European elections and we are approaching a really exciting time. One of the few good things to come from this expenses stuff is that it has motivated many who may not have voted. I really can't wait.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Two words: Special Olympics.

Front page today is about the Special Olympics and the company it employed which has failed to raise any money from commercial sponsorship.

This is actually quite a sad story, you speak to the Leicester city councillors or games officials -they sound gutted about this situation. One councillor told me that sponsors will kick themselves for missing out. Yes perhaps they will but somehow this has not been sold to those sponsors.

The recession has hit the Games, but it is clear that the company wanted to get one big sponsor, and may have put their eggs in one basket with Visa. But this fell through and they have now been left with nothing.

I tried to speak to First Rights yesterday, was promised a call back but it never happened. I would like to know what they tried, whether they changed their strategy, why they think they failed. I hope they call back next week.

The council's scrutiny committee is right to have agreed to review what has happened here, especially because the city wants to take some part in England's World Cup bid for 2018.
What is clear is that lessons must be learned. We want the city to bid for these events, we do not want this experience to put off doing it again but clearly the sponsorship or lack of it has been extremely disappointing.

Now to one of my favourite days of the year! It's cup final day. Only been to the new Wembley once, and that was only the outside. But went to the old one with my beloved Ipswich to the last competitive final there in 2000, where we won promotion to the Premier League. The place is magical, made better because I was there with my brother and Dad.

Anyway, I'll be cheering for Everton and having a drink. Bon weekend.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Noisy neighbours/thoughtless louts.

Today's front page is a story about noisy neighbours and the misery suffered by those living next to these thoughtless louts.

Yesterday I spoke to a Beaumont Leys woman who has lost weight, has become agoraphobic, and almost lost her marriage because of the problems caused by her neighbour who insists on having karaoke all through the night, letting her children and dogs run riot and who personally shouts, swears and throws things out of her windows.

Her case is not unique, in fact speaking to the police and council it became clear that thousands in the city and county suffer in exactly the same way.

Ok, all of us may have been guilty in the past of having the stereo on loud, doing DIY when we shouldn't or having a party that has got a bit out of hand. But the authorities have clear procedures and send letters, and I think 99 per cent of people would be mortified if they realised they had caused these problems and would pop next door to say sorry with some wine or flowers.

Yesterday I was in a lock-up near Morrisons at Freemans Common there were the piles and piles of DVD players, stereos, TVs, all seized from idiots who ignored the warnings and are too stupid/selfish to see they are making life so difficult for people. It makes people ill and drives them to the edge, making it difficult to function at work and at home. We should throw the book at them.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

City council expenses.

So, as I said last week the city council failed to respond to my FOI request asking for the release of the expenses of the city council cabinet within 20 days.

My comment that "there would be trouble" made a few people giggle, but anyway I was pretty grumpy about it, especially because the county council had given me the same info already, with days to spare. I was even more grumpy because I was told there was no real reason for the delay. Actually the reason I was given was so shocking I can't put it on here because it was followed swiftly by the "that was off the record by the way."

Anyway, on to today then.

10am: The situation was discussed with newsdesk and the editor, and we decided to get a formal response from the council's FOI department explaining the late reply and run a story on it. So I called the top man there, who said it was a "failure in the council's processes." Thanks. Very. Much. That's. Why. I. Am. Ringing.

Midday: I get a phone call from the city press office, asking if I was writing a story on the delay and if they could send a full statement explaining it. Of course I say.

2pm: I receive this explanation:

A city council spokesperson said:

“Firstly, we acknowledge that responding to this request has taken longer than we had hoped and we apologise for that.

“The scale and complexity of Freedom of Information (FoIA) requests has grown over the last couple of years, putting the resources and systems we need to deal with these requests under some pressure. The consequence is that responses to some requests, like this one, extend past the agreed deadline.

“However, we are currently reviewing our FoIA management systems to ensure we are better placed to deal with these requests in the future.

“As far as members’ expenses are concerned, the council has a policy of transparency – for many years summary information has been made available to the Mercury for publication annually.

“Members of the public also have access to this information during a set period each year, as part of the access arrangements to our wider accounts. We are aiming to have all of our accounts information available for public access by mid summer and will be publishing a notice to that effect shortly.

“The Mercury’s request and the ongoing national debate around MPs expenses have raised a number of issues about how we can ensure the greatest possible levels of transparency. We are currently looking at how we can make this information even more accessible so that the council taxpayers of Leicester can see exactly where their money is being spent.”

I then pop into a meeting to discuss how we are going to cover the elections on June 4.

3.15pm: The expenses, invoices and receipts are hand delivered to Mercury towers by Leicester City Council.

It would be cynical of me to think that I would not have got those details today anyway right? Now to plough through them.

One thing I have already noticed, one senior councillor sends more texts than the average teenager each month and charges the taxpayer by the way.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Today's news.

County Hall

Keith Vaz

David Taylor

One week in one post.

Back in the game. My future wife (who is London based) took my laptop for crucial work. Turns out that it was to watch a TV show called brothers and sisters, and as a result my blog lay fallow for a week.

Anyway back now and what a three days at work it has been since Tunisia, 13 and 14 hour days, but all worth it.

Wednesday: two words: Special Olympics. So after months of asking the city council and organisers about the levels of taxpayers' money needed, they admit that it is going to payout an extra £1 million. No-one is anti the event, who could be, but at the same time why couldn't they just be honest and say what we all knew.

Oh, surprise surprise the city council has failed to hit its FOI deadline for the cabinet's expense claims. Again County Hall does it no problem, with days to spare. Not them. I know that councils keep them centrally. Have already made a formal complaint and will go to the Information Commissioner. And if the rumour I have heard is true, and the cabinet decides to publish them on their websites next week, they will be in big trouble, and will help my case.

On Thursday night it was the mayor-making at the city council. Manjula Sood's 'reign' has ended and she has been tremendous. As the first Asian female to hold this post she has bought in media coverage for the city from all over the world. Most importantly, anyone who has met her knows that she is a lovely woman. And now Roger Blackmore takes over, a very bright and funny man. His year will be completely different, I am especially looking forward to seeing him in action in the council chamber. I think there will be some fire.

And last night, a difficult one. Police called in to look into allegations of dirty tricks in the County Hall elections. I will be careful about what I say here, the story is neutral and relies on facts. This story is going to run and run, not sure where though. Is not on the website yet, nor is details of David Taylor's expenses and more anger from Keith Vaz. Will add the links as soon as possible.

Off to town for present shopping for my brother and then do some wedding stuff in Rutland. Hopefully I'll get to cheer the Tigers on as well. Phew.

Friday, 15 May 2009

This is going to be my last blog for a few days because I'm off on a golf jolly to Tunisia with some men I've not met before.

So anyway, today John Mugglestone tells me to ring him back in an hour and then turns his phone off. Get a feeling we won't hear the last of this leadership battle in the city Conservative party. Coun Mugglestone, on his day, was a decent opponent to Ross Willmott, especially over the potential closure of Riverside school last week, but I think it may be time for a change. Ross Grant is desperate to make an impact on city politics, and I can't see that giving young blood a chance can be a bad thing.

Was reminded by Gemma that Alan Duncan was on Have I Got News For You talking about his second home allowance before it all went wrong and someone started digging up his garden. Go to 5.25. Notice he wasn't apologising then. I wonder if he's embarrassed. ANOTHER REASON WHY PEOPLE ARE SO INFURIATED ALAN.

There will be a brilliant piece in tomorrow's Mercury about Keith Vaz and expenses. Our award-winning features writer Lee Marlow went to find him at a school visit because he has been ignoring us for the last week. Initially Keith was pleased to see him until he stopped asking about a school crossing, and Lee was sent out of class.

Have a good weekend, back at Mercury Towers on Wednesday hopefully looking like Ron Atkinson. Hope someone doesn't use sun tan lotion to make a naughty symbol on my body when I fall asleep by the pool.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Pound Force.

Alan Duncan's garden has been vandalised. Full reaction in tomorrow's paper.

Patricia Hewitt's hedge.

I've been speaking to our county and city MPs about their expense claims this morning, Patricia Hewitt has just told me about having her hedge trimmed and Andy Reed about going to the B&Q sale. Is going to make a good spread tomorrow so make sure you have a look.

Oh, have made further attempts to contact Keith Vaz. Will he be paying any money back? I hope to find out later.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A message for Keith Vaz: call me!

Dear Keith,

If you read my blog can you give me a ring back please? I'd like to interview you about expenses and ask whether you think you should pay any money back like some of your colleagues have. I know you have given us a statement, I know it was within the rules, but you rang the editor and I hoped that this meant you would want to give your views over the phone or in person. Maybe you have sent a pigeon or a horseman will deliver a message with a time or date or something or anything. That's probably it.
Love Martin x

Anyway, county council election trail has started, and over the next three weeks we will be writing in detail about the big issues and battlegrounds. Tomorrow's is travellers, and there are few more divisive, emotive issues than this one. The main parties have set out their arguments, most of which revolve around breaking illegal camps up quickly but ensuring they have somewhere to go. The spokesman were a credit to their parties, but knowing politicians as I do, some will use this issue for their own gain, probably by spreading fear of crime.
Although travellers can cause problems, it is a minority, they deserve to be treated with respect. If they are treated as they should be then when they break the law they can have no complaints when we throw the book at them.
Oh, we will also have a spangling exciting election section on from the morning. You should look.

Tomorrow I will be writing about a major change in the political make-up at the city council. One thing any council needs is a robust opposition to scrutinise decisions made by the cabinet and its officers. Too often the Mercury has been the main scrutineer. It is part of our job, but we cannot speak out at meetings or start change from within the council. Good luck RG.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Stephen Fry, what a let down.

Stephen Fry, a man universally liked, a national treasure etc, but what was he going on about today...?

When asked about the MPs' expenses he said: "It's not that important, it really isn't." He also said that Journalists' expenses were just as bad. Trust me, I've got to claim for a sandwich I bought near the High Court last month and I'm nervous about getting the boss to sign it off.

Anyway, today David Cameron tells the people who have made cock-ups to pay the money back. Alan Duncan has written out a cheque for £5,000 but insists despite being told to do so or face expulsion from the party, it was a "voluntary" act and that he has done it without any guilt. This is why you are making people so infuriated Alan.

Back to Cameron, again, he seems to be taking the advantage on major issues. You have to wonder who is advising Gordon Brown, or if he is ignoring advice. I deal with PR people all the time, good and bad, and the first rule is to be proactive. The PM has had a week to do something about this, whip his boys and girls into shape, make a point about being tough. Again he has missed the train, boat, bus, anything you can think of really.

I met him a fortnight or so ago at Loughborough University and when I interviewed him I could tell that although he lacks charisma, he is a decent enough bloke. I was desperate to tell him (I didn't) that he needed to change, put my arm around him and say that he needs to reshuffle the pack because people are letting him down. But I'm afraid, if I get to meet him this week, he is back in the area again by the way, I may just say this time, he has no-one else to blame but himself.

Monday, 11 May 2009

You go away for a few hours.....

So now a politician is claiming for looking after a moat. Yes a moat. This is getting absolutely crazy and completely embarrassing. Listening to 5Live and people are just shouting about this. They are getting so angry that I don't think they will be happy before someone falls on their sword now. I have to agree, and we must have blood before the week is out. I don't care if it was within the rules, it is WRONG!
It seems that despite the criticism, Alan Duncan and Keith Vaz will survive. Interesting to see what will come out about our other seven or so MPs in the next few days.

Now almost as important, it was the battle of Leicester media tonight at the University of Leicester's Manor Road sports ground. And yes that thanks to a stern defence and creativity up front, the Mercury beat the BBC 7-3. Brilliant to sock it those lot! See you for more fun tomorrow

Alan Duncan.

County MP Alan Duncan has apologised over embarrassing expense claims for work on his garden. Mr Duncan was front page news today after asking for thousands of pounds for green-fingered duties at his home. His claim for work on his sit-on lawn mower and to pay for a puncture really was particularly laughable.

A really bad couple of days for the county after Keith Vaz was forced to defend £80,000 expenses on second homes this morning. He clearly loves cushions and armchairs. Blimey.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Victoria Park: No hangover.

Managed to make it through the weekend without any alcohol, I know it sounds crazy/worrying but it has been a big thing for me to do it, especially with lots of football on this weekend in the Clarendon. Can't wait for pint next weekend though.

On the hand, meant that I could go for a run around Victoria Park early on Saturday, and also went to drop off deposit at our wedding reception venue. You really can do lots more without a stinking hangover.

I must admit the ongoing expenses scandal has taken my mind off it a bit. I am getting more angry and staggered at the number of politicians who seem to believe saying it was within the rules means that unethical claims are acceptable to the rest of the population. Bonkers claims for nappies, biscuits, and decorating of all sorts is absolutely disgusting. And I think most people feel that way because if you looked at our expense claims, most of us are loathed to claim for anything at all.

Tories next, and bearing in mind they've had little to say about all this so far, it means that they are probably set for a big embarrassment this week. Can't wait to find out who has claimed for that sauna.

Tomorrow is city council cabinet meeting, involving Riverside, so should be interesting, plus briefing at County Hall. Will let you know what happens.

By the way, Ian and I saw a leading politician picking up an unknown woman after work on Friday. Looked like romance was in the air because he couldn't stop smiling, Ahh. Very interesting and my first bit of gossip for you.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Parking, BBC and Riverside. What a day!

Such a busy day today.

A major issue resurfaced, as it seems we are back on the path towards a parking permit scheme in the West End.

Businesses do not want it, the council says that residents do. That means trouble.

The big problem is that if they have a public poll will the council win?

In Clarendon Park I think the council thought it would be voted through, but the results didn't go their way. Patrick Kitterick says it is badly needed, so will they just bring it in? We'll see. The move would not be popular but if they council are so sure, I wonder if they'll do it despite the consequences.

Other stories included further problems on the A47 and six more months of roadworks. A real pain for drivers, but you only have to walk through the new bit near our office to see the difference it has made there.

Thursday is five-a-side at St Matthew's which was great fun. Even better news, we are playing BBC Leicester on Monday night and prepared for it with a big win.

And a final thought for the parents of Riverside, which will probably be recommended for closure by the council's cabinet on Monday. Ian was at scrutiny and it sounds like an emotional event. I'm still not convinced that the council could not have foreseen these problems years ago and there are many conspiracies surrounding this decision.

Wonder if they will sell the land for development? We'll see.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Day One.

First day as a blogger....exciting!

Today I was writing about the financial situation facing the Leicester Special Olympics. No one can doubt that this is going to be great for the city, but they are at least £800,000 short of their fundraising target with less that 2 months to go. I get the sense that the management think that if you question this situation then you are in some way anti this event. No, what I am anti is they could rely on the taxpayer to bail them out.

I also have been writing more on the ongoing row between Breedon villagers and County Hall. It has already cost £2 million and growing. It is heading for disaster because either way taxpayers will end up paying for this mess. Both are convinced not only the other is wrong, but that the other is playing dirty. Some really serious allegations about inpropriety and corruption. The protesters also believe that Nick Rushton will lose his seat because of this. I would be very surprised, but no doubt this is going to be a big issue come the county elections in June.

Finally, got back from squash with education supremo Ian Wishart, who by now should have set up his blog. Long long queues on the ring road caused us to divert through Fosse Park and Narborough Road back to Clarendon Park.

Oh, has anyone seen how big the new Sainsbury's is on Queens Road. Its signs already swamp the street. Hope that doesn't kill the local shops.